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The Spotless Mind

Musings of a Non-Film Reviewer. I pay, I watch, I comment.

Month

January 2017

SPLIT (M. Night Shyamalan, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Split:

1. I wasn’t even surprised that M. Night Shyamalan (arguably the King of Twist Endings) decided to tackle dissociative identity disorder in his latest movie. Having a character with multiple personalities seemed like such a convenient way to mess with his audience’s brains. Except that the lead character Kevin Wendell Crumb’s (James McAvoy) condition was already revealed in the trailer so one was left to wonder what else he had up his sleeve.

Without completely spoiling the ending, let me just say that the reveal was nowhere close to what I expected, but it still felt like a huge letdown for such an interesting premise.

2. McAvoy looked like he was really having so much fun in the role of a man with 23 (and counting) different personalities. He was so good that he single-handedly played every character of John Cusack and company in the movie Identity.

My favorite persona was nine year old Hedwig (“Etcetera!”) that required him to do his best impression of Sean Penn in I Am Sam. A rewatch of Atonement should definitely be in order.

3. I liked that the three girl victims initially didn’t simply cower in fear and wait for a saviour (“That’s victim shit! The only chance we have is if all three of us go crazy on this guy!”).

What I didn’t like was that when they were faced with the actual threat, they still reacted like any of the dumb blondes that were viciously mocked in the Scream film series. Seriously, who would hide inside a locker to escape a predator? Or grab a walkie talkie and just stay inside the same space with the man that you’re running away from? Or helplessly cry in an isolated room and wait until the very last minute to find a way out? Anyare mga bes?

4. If it wasn’t blatant enough that the lead victim Casey (Anna Taylor-Joy of Morgan) was a survivor in life, we had to see a back story involving her tragic childhood of sexual abuse. I was surprised they didn’t purchase the rights to use Destiny’s Child’s Survivor as a theme song. Too expensive?

5. Worst cameo: Shyamalan himself as a security guard proclaiming that for Asian people, music aids digestion. I would like to suggest Yakult instead.

Best cameo: Bruce Willis as David Dunn, naturally. Unbreakable (the cracked glass on the poster should have been a giveaway!) has always been one of my favorite superhero films and although it was a stretch to link these two movies, it was still a refreshing nod to the pre-hack Shyamalan days (please note, I really liked his last film The Visit).

6. Speaking of, I was reminded of Unbreakable in the scene where Kevin placed flowers outside the subway that I secretly wished he wouldn’t turn out to be an accomplice of Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price (aka Mr. Glass). At least half of it came true.

Also, was I the only one reminded of Red Dragon during The Horde’s beastly transformation? Will this be the start of a Shyamalan superhero universe ala Marvel? Can we have someone with mental health issues be the hero next time (Casey!)?

7. “The broken are the more evolved.” Wow, so there really was a silver lining in all of those failed relationships!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

ILAWOD (Dan Villegas, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Ilawod:

1. For me, Pinoy horror stories with their local settings, deeply-rooted mythologies, and fascinating folklore would always be much scarier than any Hollywood flick. Whereas Linda Blair and her spinning head made me cackle with glee, I almost peed my pants when Manilyn Reynes was stalked by a horde of aswangs led by Vangie Labalan. I could never picture Valak looking at me through a mirror, but I could easily imagine that dead nun killed during the Bataan Death March in the Magandang Gabi Bayan Halloween episode staring right at me from outside my bedroom window. This must be all coming from my childhood belief that Count Dracula and every other foreign monster would never even bother taking a 21-hour flight to the Philippines.

2. I really tried to like this movie especially since I was easily drawn to the very Pinoy story of the Ilawod, a water elemental living in streams known to dominate human bodies and suck the souls out of them (the name itself literally means downstream). Unfortunately, it wasn’t able to differentiate itself from other horror movies with genre tropes that included an exorcism and possession.

There was a scene with a kid drawing black rings that could have been an early promo for the new Rings sequel. The real face of the Ilawod looked like a monster from Pan’s Labyrinth. The elevator footage eeriely resembled that viral video with Elisa Lam (Google it!). Even the haunting scenes involving water (dripping from the ceiling, puddles on the floor) in the condominium seemed to have been borrowed heavily from Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water.

3. In the opening scene, an old lady was possessed by the Ilawod and when she saw Ian Veneracion (playing a daddy daddy beat reporter), her long pointed tongue started flailing like crazy and my very first thought was, “Why wouldn’t it?” Veneracion just didn’t age since his Anak ng Demonyo days and I could easily see hordes of women and gay men doing the exact same thing when they see him in person, with or without spirit possession. (Where did you find the Fountain of Youth, Ian? Tell us please!!)

4. I might have missed it, but I couldn’t understand why the Ilawod got really mad at Ian and wanted to exact revenge on him and his family aside from the fact that he didn’t believe in the supernatural. I’d rather assume that she was just being bitter for getting rejected by a hottie.

5. I kinda felt bad for Therese Malvar since she’s currently one of the best young actresses in Philippine cinema and she got stuck playing an elemental with heavy makeup and a brushed-up wet look hairdo while sporting Mother Lily’s magic white kamison. I also couldn’t believe that Ian’s teenage son never once bothered to ask why she never changed outfits or why she was always making tambay by the poolside.

6. Speaking of teenagers, I was really surprised at how much Xyriel Manabat has grown. Her transformation made me feel even more old. But wait, why didn’t she look like any of her parents (the mother was played by Iza Calzado)?

In one hilarious scene, she was attacked by the Ilawod so she ran to her parents’ bedroom but the door remained locked. Her parents kept knocking and pulling on the knob but the door just wouldn’t budge. In her state of panic, Iza then asked the most logical question: “Ano na bang nangyayari sa mga anak natin?” HUH?!!

At least after that incident, she regained her bearings and got the services of Father Pnoy to bless their unit.

7. With its blatant sexualization of kids, I was surprised that the movie still took the safer, more sanitized route. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t suggesting a love scene, but I would have preferred it if not everything (even just a simple kiss) were merely suggestive. Nothing wrong with a horror movie making people squirm in their seats and making them feel uncomfortable.

8. If the Undin made me stay away from the sea, this one made me reconsider making tampisaw in a batis.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

PATRIOTS DAY (Peter Berg, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT?

My notes on Patriots Day:

1. When Paul Greengrass’ United 93 first came out, I remembered having this lengthy discussion with my friend Trena on whether it was appropriate to create a film based on actual tragedy. Since it came out five years after 9/11, I felt that enough time had passed for everyone involved to heal and a film like that could deliver an important message to a wider audience. Her stance (she’s American btw) was that it was never too soon to make one, it just should never be made at all out of respect for the victims and their families.

I completely understood her point while watching this movie based on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. I may have lived thousands of miles away yet I was still greatly affected by everything that happened onscreen. I couldn’t even imagine the actual survivors watching this and reliving the horror again.

On the other hand, the film’s strong themes on love, hope, and resilience of the human spirit (the Boston Strong interviews during the end credits made me bawl my eyes out) supported my belief that it was a story worth retelling on the big screen.

In the end, I walked out of the theater still having mixed emotions about this.

2. I was also torn on the obvious distinctions between the heroes and villains in the movie, especially since this was based on a true event. It painted the terrorists (Middle Eastern Muslims) in such a bad light that I seethed in my seat and cheered along with everyone when these savages were subjected to severe brutality. But then how else to portray them if these were the actual facts?

One character perfectly summed up this sad reality: “The accusations are gonna come no matter what we do.”

3. Even if everyone knew how the story would end, this was actually still a very effective thriller. My heart was pounding through my chest when one of the bombs was placed near a pram and I stifled a scream when they were finally detonated. I couldn’t look at the carnage after (broken limbs everywhere!) and the thought that this happened in real life further crushed my already tired heart.

4. There were several scenes here that were viewed through various CCTV footage and my first thought was “Sorry Peter Berg, but Pamilya Ordinaryo did it first.”

5. Don’t we all hate blatant local product placements? Well, Dunkin Donuts had a mini-commercial of its own in this movie. Was it just a coincidence that their slogan’s “America Runs on Dunkin”? Hmmm…

6. I was pleasantly surprised to see Silicon Valley’s Jian Yang here and he definitely had the most crowd-pleasing moment with the line “Go catch those motherfuckers!”.

7. In one sequence, the FBI recreated the actual crime scene in a huge warehouse using specific items from the victims. It then made things easier for them to determine the actual stores with exterior cameras that captured the events real-time, including possible leads. I was completely impressed with this process especially since our local policemen still use toy cars (kotse-kotsehan) to reenact vehicular accidents.

8. It was later revealed that the terrorists apparently watched a lot of porn during their free time. I guess now would be the best time for me to reevaluate my priorities.

Rating: ★★★★☆

LA LA LAND (Damian Chazelle, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on La La Land:

1. One character in this film probably summed up my entire viewing experience of this oftentimes joyous homage to classic Hollywood musicals: “How are you going to be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist?”

Damien Chazelle (who also directed Whiplash, one of the best of 2014) concocted such a nostalgic fantasy world that easily razzle dazzled the audience and made them forget that they were basically watching the same old romance tropes (why am I mentioning romance like it’s a dirty word?). I think Billy Flynn in Chicago said it best with “How can they see with sequins (or in this case, thousands of stars?) in their eyes?”.

2. The “Another Day of Sun” opening sequence was such a delight to watch that it was hard for me not to stomp my feet along with it. Wouldn’t it be great if people suddenly burst into an all-out song and dance production number while stuck in EDSA rush hour traffic? Besides, your obnoxious soulmate might just be right there in the next Tas Trans bus.

3. I named my current car after Emma Stone so my love for her was unquestionable. It would also be out of love for me to say that she was great here as struggling actress Mia (the first audition scene when she was rudely interrupted for a sandwich was heartbreaking), except when she was required to sing. Her voice was just too weak (thin? airy?) and it hobbled what could have been a brilliant showstopper with “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”. (This song sounded like “The Rainbow Connection” while “A Lovely Night” reminded me so much of Frank Sinatra’s “Cheek to Cheek”.)

4. Ryan Gosling as Sebastian was just as charming and had the right amount of smarm, like he was the better person simply for being a jazz enthusiast. He actually looked like he was literally dying of embarrassment while playing A-ha’s “Take On Me”. His fingers were a bit stiff during the piano scenes, but he fared much better vocally. Also, could someone teach me how to whistle that “City of Stars” piece?

5. When J.K. Simmons stormed out of the kitchen to fire Gosling, I actually thought that he would throw a ladle at him and scream, “Not quite my tempo!!”. (Seriously, if you hadn’t seen Whiplash, watch it now!!)

6. Passion, hard work, and the sacrifices made to realize your dreams. Different priorities, different outlooks. Long-distance relationships (“My aunt used to live in Paris…”) rarely worked. Why must life be so cruel?

7. The seasons as metaphors for their relationship status and even the bench break-up scene reminded me so much of (500) Days of Summer. On the other hand, the coffee shop scenes were very Bituing Walang Ningning. I loved the newly-transformed Dorina Pineda vibe she gave when she walked in five years later to get her latte. Uwian na, may nanalo na.

8. That alternate reality sequence would probably go down as the ultimate hopia moment of 2016.

9. Much had been said about the bittersweet ending complete with their longing looks (disappointment? regret? hope? acceptance? closure?) and it probably would have been more poignant if I didn’t see it first in Olivia Lamasan’s The Mistress.

Rating: ★★★★☆

ASSASSIN’S CREED (Justin Kurzel, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Assassin’s Creed:

1. My least favorite part of playing video games would be the cutscenes, the animated clips usually shown between chapters to fill in the story gaps or propel the plot forward. I didn’t like them much because they defeated the purpose of playing: the full interactivity and complete control of the game. I could never relive the horror of helplessly watching Aeris getting stabbed by Sephiroth.

This movie was just as frustrating because all throughout I just wanted to grab a controller and make Michael Fassbender run as far away from this mess as possible. (Who was I kidding? I also wanted him to take off his garb and flash his Fassy.)

2. The movie started with an opening crawl that involved the Order of the Knights of the Templar, the urgent retrieval of the Apple of Eden, and an eagle that seemingly flew for thirty years and my head started to ache. Unfortunately, there was no X button that would allow me to skip to the good parts.

3. If there were an actual Animus, it could be an awesome ride in Disneyland. I mean it looked really fun when people started invading the mind of John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich and this felt like it would be the same experience. Only John Malkovich would be replaced by the 500 year-old memory of a dead person. Ooh, creepy with a touch of sinful! Count me in.

4. I liked the videogame feel especially during the Animus transition scenes. I just wished that the action scenes were more exciting because the swooping cameras alone certainly didn’t do the trick (even the rooftop scene towards the end was so incoherent and felt endless).

5. I was completely baffled by how they were able to wrangle such a talented cast that included Fassy, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, and Charlotte Rampling. The sales of this game must have been really lucrative.

In one scene, Fassy even sang like a madman (I didn’t just imagine that, right?) and he probably did that for a handsome paycheck.

6. “Violence is a disease like cancer.” How timely! Seriously though, it was interesting to hear the link between heredity and crime that proved that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

And speaking of apple, what was the need for that genetic code that contained free will that could completely eradicate violence? And why the hell did Fassy keep free falling from buildings?

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

 

 

PASSENGERS (Morten Tyldum, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Passengers:

1. I could never be an astronaut. Just the thought of putting on a helmet (and the fear that my head would get stuck in it) had given me endless nightmares. I almost fainted when I saw that viral video where a teenage girl got her head caught in a pumpkin. Suffice to say, I wouldn’t survive in a spaceship even if I were in suspended animation for 120 years (because I would eventually wake up and immediately die of claustrophobia).

2. I wasn’t the biggest fan of recent space sci-fi movies (Elysium, Interstellar, not even the critically-lauded Gravity), but an interesting trailer that promised a few thrills and my fondness for Chris Pratt since Guardians of the Galaxy was enough to draw me in. Well, thank goodness for his cute butt because I really wasn’t expecting this to be a comedy.

3. The Avalon’s voice sounded very much like that soothing theme park voice you hear before boarding a ride in Disneyland. For our local version, I would like to suggest that we get the Ate voice from Uniqlo that courteously thanks all customers for “shahpeeng”.

4. Pratt was still charming as ever here, but it ultimately became his downfall. Even during the dramatic moments, it was just hard to take him seriously. Like he was trying to keep a deadpan, straight face while giving these directions: “We need to find something big, something broken, something wrong.” He could very well have been talking about the screenplay. (Also, he looked cute in a scruffy beard.)

5. A lot of vicious reviews called this clunker “Titanic in Space” and I could understand why. As the biggest fan of that disaster flick (shamelessly, still my favorite film of all time), I remembered it so much in the following scenes:

* The langit-lupa situation of the doomed lovers, where he flew coach and could only get the normal cup of coffee while she belonged in the gold section that could choose between a macchiato and a French cream blend. (One of the reasons why I enjoy flying Cebu Pacific: no class distinction, everyone can only purchase the same “Snacks for sale!”.)

* Remember when Rose felt lonely and abandoned and wanted to jump off the ship? Yup, somebody here also felt terribly alone and attempted to jump into oblivion (coincidentally, another bad space sci-fi movie).

* “Do you trust me?” and “You die, I die” scenes lifted directly from the sinking ship’s screenplay (which was obviously not its strongest suit to begin with).

* One auto-dock left that could only save either of them. Dying of hypothermia next to a floating door in the ocean was more romantic.

* His one last habilin to “Wake up and you’ll finish what you were supposed to do” sounded very much like “You’re going to die an old woman and have lots of babies…” and then the camera slowly panned on the picture frames with Rose showing that she indeed lived a full life, rode horses, and toured the world and…wait, I needed to wipe away my tears.

6. I loved how Chris and Jennifer Lawrence (in a knockout white bathing suit) were able to maintain their to die for bodies through constant sex on every flat surface. But then again, they were in space and could have gone beyond the Kama Sutra and didn’t. Imagine the endless possibilities!

7. 19 years to send mail in outer space? Would that be sloth mail?

8. Michael Sheen as the android bartender reminded me of Rosie in The Jetsons. In one scene, I actually thought that Chris was also an android because he was brutally attacked by JLaw and yet didn’t sustain any wounds or bruises. Why?

9. I probably laughed the loudest when JLaw screamed “Come back to me! I can’t live on the ship without you!!”. No wait, it was actually when she pulled the string to bring back a dead floating Chris in space. Now why didn’t Sandra Bullock think of that?

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

 

 

SING (Garth Jennings, Christophe Lourdelet, 2016)

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My notes on Sing:

1. When the Illumination logo showed up and the Minions started singing, I suddenly wished that they were part of the movie. What kind of animals (critters?) were they, anyway? At least it made me excited for their next outing. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be as bad as the last one.

2. I really liked the zippy opening montage introducing all the animals and their current dilemmas. Most of the characters here reminded me so much of Zootopia (like they existed in a parallel cinema universe). I wish their story arcs (young man going against his father’s dream for him, housewife wanting to fulfill her passion, teenage girl experiencing her first heartbreak, etc.) were more developed though, because they represented majority of us and our insecurities.

3. Buster Moon’s (Matthew McConaughey) love for theater at a young age reminded me of my early days watching Fernando Poe, Jr. (and the occasional Sharon Cuneta) films in Alabang Twin Cinema. My grandmother would always drag me to see Da King decimate an entire army of goons with just a .45 (without ever reloading bullets!).

Parents, it’s never too late to expose your kids to the arts.

4. Any American Idol fan would be able to relate to the entire audition process and competition rules (at one point, Buster dictated the songs that he wanted the contestants to perform; hello Simon Fuller controversy!). The selection of songs used here ranged from the classics (Hallelujah, also one of the most-performed songs on AI) to the current pop songs (Crazy in Love, Bad Romance, Firework, Stay With Me).

My favorite auditionees were the Asereje spiders and the Japanese little foxes girl group. They made me cheer from my seat out of nostalgia.

5. The movie occasionally made fun of one character with a disability, an elderly iguana with a glass eye. I laughed out really loud when the said eye fell out of its socket and bounced on the keyboard, resulting to an error on the actual cash prize for the competition. Would I go straight to hell for that?

6. Although the story was only fairly decent, most of the voice performances were really strong. Aside from McConaughey singing Call Me Maybe, it was a delight to hear Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Seth McFarlane and Taron Egerton belting their hearts out.

My favorite though was Tori Kelly as Meena, a shy elephant with stage fright. When she had her shining moment performing Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing, I was cheering along with the rest of the animal crowd.

7. The squid light show looked enchanting but weirdly enough also made me crave for Mesa’s Baby Squid Adobo in its own ink.

8. As a person with stage fright myself (I forgot a huge chunk of my speech during a Talumpatian in grade school and cried onstage), I would always remember what Buster said to Meena, “Don’t let fear stop you from doing the thing you love.” Noted and noted.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

MANG KEPWENG RETURNS (G.B. Sampedro, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Mang Kepweng Returns:

1. My late grandmother was a big believer in quack medicine. Whenever I’d get sick as a kid, she would bring me to this seaside hut where an even older lady prayed over some wax paper (with Latin words written on them), licked them like stamps, and slapped them on my forehead to help exorcise the bad spirits causing my illness.

I never once believed in her sorcery (especially since my mom would ask me to take Aspilets after the session), but without her magical saliva, I would not have developed a stronger immune system.

2. I could barely remember the original Mang Kepweng movie, except that the late Chiquito (who was here in hologram form, but his mouth never moved while talking) played the title role with his trademark reverse bandana and Hitler mustache. I do remember its comics origins so I wasn’t surprised when this one started very much like a Marvel movie. Until it actually turned into a wannabe Marvel movie.

3. Much like any of its superhero origin stories, Kiefer (Vhong Navarro) found out the secrets to his past (he’s the bastard child of Mang Kepweng!), learned to harness his powers (polka dot bandana activate!), discovered how to be Doctor Strange (summoning those holograms and all!), and even staged a Civil War in the climactic battle sequence.

I even joked that I should stay until the end credits just in case there was a closing credits sequence. I wasn’t disappointed. Eat your heart out, Stan Lee!!

4. For a supposed update to a cult classic, most of the jokes here felt so dated. It reminded me so much of the humor in Home Along Da Riles (only that was hilarious and nobody could ever match the comic timing of the late Dolphy).

There were so many gags that were just not funny. One involved bungled haircuts (one man wanted his head shaved, the long-haired one wanted his dyed blonde, you know how this would end), another one had cha-cha music played during a funeral march, a latent gay character was always used as a punchline, and the worst had to be the renaissance of the yakapsule and kisspirin joke. Now watch me whip, now watch me anyenyeh!

5. Aerial shots galore. Congratulations on your new drone!

6. Is Jollicious Hotdog an actual product? That entire Zumba sequence where a large woman (named Petite, of course) fainted and was brought back to her senses by the smell of a jumbo Jollicious hotdog reeked of shameless product placement.

7. Two major characters kept questioning if the bandana had magical powers even if they grew a unibrow and a mustache after wearing it. Demanding much, mga bes?

8. Vhong used to be really funny, very much like a local Jim Carrey. In this movie, he was reduced to overacting like crazy while constantly cowering in fear (why was he working in a funeral parlor anyway if he was always close to having a stroke every time something eerie happened?).

9. The only joke that really landed was delivered by Bangky. When asked what he was smoking, he answered “Beep”. Vhong corrected him and said “Hindi po yan beep. Vape po yan” to which he replied “Beep ang plebor. Sa susunod chicken naman.” Mabuhay ang bangkay!

10. I would forever remember this movie as the one where a character actually said the line, “Ate kinagat ako ng tiyan mo!”. Horrors!!

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

COLLATERAL BEAUTY (David Frankel, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Collateral Beauty:

1. The movie started with Will Smith (as Howard, an advertising executive) delivering a supposedly empowering and emotional speech to his team (“We all long for love, wish for more time, and fear death”), but said message closely resembled the coffee commercial asking us “Para kanino ka bumabangon?”. I actually expected him to take a sip of Nescafe after every dramatic pause. How could advertising illuminate other people’s lives if we’re dealt the same treacly platitudes?

2. Trauma caused by the death of a loved one should be a gold mine for emotional manipulation (nothing wrong with it, if executed properly). Instead, the movie decided to be a dark comedy where Howard’s co-workers slash friends hired professional actors to play abstract characters (Love, Time, and Death) that interacted with him and made him appear all sorts of crazy. Some friends, no?

3. I liked how the movie raised the discussion on bereavement hallucinations. Maybe this could help explain all the ghost stories of loved ones visiting us days after their death. Or why I would imagine a giant KFC chicken on our dining table Temptation Island-style whenever I would go on these unsuccessful New Year’s resolution diets.

4. One character mentioned that “casting is very important” and it couldn’t be more true in this one. Without Smith, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, and Helen Mirren, among others, this probably would have been a Christmas TV movie on Lifetime.

5. Speaking of Mirren, she performed a holiday miracle here by making the most out of a thankless role (“It turns out Death was an elderly white woman.”). Her character kept complaining that she should have played all the parts and at some points, I actually wished she did.

6. As a huge Winslet fan, I had always been fascinated with her wobbly American accent and her waterloo was always the word “absurd”. I swear, check out her other films.

7. I think my eyes rolled out of their sockets in the scene where Howard described the experience of seeing his newborn daughter with “I looked at her and I realized I wasn’t feeling love, I have become love.” Another reason why I would never be a father.

8. The digital manipulation done on Howard’s breakdown videos must have cost these characters a fortune. Surely, there were better and more cost-efficient options.

9. Twist after (predictable) twist that didn’t really matter. Everything felt inauthentic down to the buckets of tears that flowed in every other scene. Boo hoo indeed.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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